When Bryan Flanagan sat in front of his laptop last month to compose a Facebook status that would officially announce his bisexual orientation to the social media world, how the news would be received by the brothers in his fraternity did not even cross his mind.
“I didn’t really think about it,” the sophomore marine biology major and one of the founding fathers of the University of Rhode Island’s reinstated chapter of Phi Kappa Psi said. “[My brothers] had already accepted me. Everyone was just like, ‘Good for you, buddy, we’re there for you all the time.’ Â I think it was really cool to have a group of 40 guys who accept me for who I am.”
Despite Flanagan’s positive experience, the integrity and diversity of Greek life is continually nationally challenged by issues like the heteronormative Greek organizations portrayed in pop culture and recent coverage by the media of alleged cases of date rape and racism. Â Though URI Greek Life does not quantify the diversity, racial or otherwise, of its fraternities and sororities, Director of Greek Life Stephen Simo said Greek life is “open to people of all backgrounds, races, creeds and religions.”
While on paper Greek life is open to all, some members have had alternative experiences. Â “Sasha,” who asked that her sorority at URI and her position on its executive board be kept anonymous because she is not ‘out’ to her parents, has been dating a girl who is not Greek for almost a year- her first homosexual relationship. Â About half the members of her sorority know about her girlfriend, and though they have all been accepting, she is hesitant to broadcast the fact she is dating a girl and questioning whether she identifies as bisexual, to the Greek community.
“I don’t want to give the name to [my sorority] that [someone on the executive board] is a lesbian,” she said. “I don’t want the term ‘lesbian’ associated with the house because it does have a negative connotation to it. Â It shouldn’t, but it does.”
Sasha said that though other girls in both her house and other sororities are openly gay and readily accepted for it (and she knows the same acceptance would be extended to her), she worries that Greek life’s stereotyping of houses could detriment her sorority’s social standing if she, as an executive member, was out. Â “I would care if every time [my sorority] was mentioned if people were like ‘Oh, this person’s a lesbian in [that sorority],’” she said.
Regardless of her personal choices to not be openly out, Sasha said that people who are minorities should not be afraid of joining Greek life. Â “The stereotype is that we’re [Greek life] against all minorities, but it’s not true,” she said. Â “I don’t feel like that in my house.” The only discomfort she has seen from members of Greek life is in inter-house hookups, something Flanagan agreed he too would not do.
“Some people think it’s weird that you’re hooking up with someone you’re supposed to be so close to you would call them your brother or sister,” Sasha said, citing the example of a frat on campus that considered expelling a member who almost “hooked up” with a pledge.
Since a video of brothers in the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) singing a racially charged chant surfaced on social media, resulting in the house being kicked off campus and the expulsion of implicated members, the racial diversity of Greek life has also been under scrutiny by the media.
Simo, Sasha and various other members of Greek life have since testified that URI’s chapter of SAE is one of the university’s most diverse fraternities. Â President Daniel Granfield said that any distaste directed at URI’s chapter is both painful for members and displaced. Â “The selling point of this chapter is that the mission of this chapter is to prove negative fraternity stereotypes wrong,” Granfield, who emphasized that he hopes other fraternities are as accepting of sexual and racial minorities as SAE is, said. Â “In terms of fraternities, brotherhood doesn’t have a color.”
“A brother doesn’t have sexual preference either,” he added. “If he’s loyal to us and supports us in our mission, he’s welcome in our fraternity. Â Granfield estimates that of the 79 members in his fraternity, 14 are African American, nine are Hispanic, six are Asian and one is of Middle Eastern decent.
Regardless of Granfield’s testimony, the heterosexual white stereotype Greek life often holds is still deterrent to some minority students who do not see their personal values, or even physical appearances, represented.
Kevin Pajaro, a senior communications major of Dominican and Columbian decent and vice president of the Greek-lettered multicultural organization Lambda Upsilon Lambda, did not see himself fitting into a traditional fraternity, despite the respect he has for many members.
“When I got to campus I obviously saw the hype of all the big fraternities,” he said. “But the reality is that although those orgs diverse, there’s not a lot of people that look like me and when I have certain conversations with them, they can’t understand where I’m coming from.”
“I don’t personally believe that the people in Greek life, in the mainstream orgs, have a bias towards not taking people of color,” he continued. “I think the reality is the culture does not attract too many people of color.”
Pajaro is the student liaison for the currently-dormant Multicultural Greek Council which oversees the eight Greek-lettered multicultural organizations recognized at URI. Â Though his organization only has two active members, he feels like he is a part of a movement rather than just an organization.
Though Pajaro does not think members of Greek Life are anything other than accepting to minorities, he said that the Christopher House, where the staff that oversees Greek Life is housed, (including Simo), needs to do more to promote multiculturalism and “put more of an emphasis to make sure multicultural Greek life is a thing. Â A lot of people don’t know we exist.”
But for now, “It does feel weird when you’re in a meeting with all male, who identify as straight, men who are in a fraternity, and none of them look like you so maybe it gives you the notion that you don’t belong,” he said. “But I think people [of color] have to keep telling themselves they do.”